May 2, 2016 | By Alec

For many users, Twitter is little more than a convenient quick news and meme sharing tool. But because all those messages are tagged, Twitter is actually a treasure trove for constantly-updating information that provides insights into what is deemed most important right now. Denver student Chadwick John Friedman has been working hard to harness that data into physical representations, and previously 3D printed a mood lamp that changes colors to match the general attitude of the Denver population. But the ambitious Friedman has just taken that fascinating concept to the next level, with his 3D printed PrecogNation masks that change color the track the state of sustainable development throughout the world.

This PrecogNation project is a very interesting 21rst century version of age-old superstitions surrounding masks. Throughout history and across cultures, masks were believed to have magical powers that allow the wearer to completely change their identity and gain knowledge. Not only could they physically transform who they were, masks presented wearers with the opportunity to cross a bridge into another world. “These masks work as not only representations of data, but as a physical wearable that stimulates the mind into a different state of being,” Friedman explains his choice for masks. They perfectly represent, he feels, a physical tool for looking into the future and to the world that could be.

But where mask wearers in the past mostly relied on beliefs, the PrecogNation masks instead rely solely on data. Thanks to an Arduino Yún, the masks are connected to a Twitter feed and focus on various keywords surrounding sustainable development. They then light up in green, red, or blue to show a dominance of positive, negative or mixed trending topics. “The masks are constantly scraping data from Twitter in real-time via Temboo choreos. Temboo assigns special API keys for Arduino devices that allow the user grab real-time data from Twitter that would otherwise be difficult to gather. That live data is then fed to the Arduino Yún, which illuminates a specific 10mm super bright LED, connected to the masks,” Friedman explains. The masks themselves were 3D printed in Z-ABS filament on a Zortrax 3D Printer in about 16 hours each.

As Friedman explains, the decision to make all three faces identical was a logical one. “They represent a future that is striving for perfection, the terrifying perfection of a self-obsessed society infatuated with self-image, outsider approval of perfect physicality, and the distraction that that type of perfection elicits from the real world. These masks remind us that the only perfection we should be striving for is in the field of sustainability,” he argues. “When the masks are activated, whether from data or from being worn, it is my hope that they will somehow provoke forward thinking and illuminate the importance of a sustainable future.”

But 3D printing was perhaps the easiest step. As Friedman explains, it was quite difficult to find a way to properly represent that overload of Twitter data. In the end, he programmed the Arduino to look for certain keywords associated with the three colors. Progress in sustainable development (green) is represented by keywords such as renewable energy, wind turbines and so on. Threats to sustainability (red) include deforestation, global warming and pollution. The blue group, finally, represents contrasting results. After all, ‘polar bear’ and ‘melting polar’ in a single article are unreadable for the masks. Such results are therefore grouped under blue. “Coming up with the correct terms to represent the overload of information was especially tricky, and writing the code to reflect that confusion was equally as challenging. I eventually found a series of key words and demands that elicited the response I was hoping for in this category,” Friedman says.

In the end, however, both red and blue colors appear more often than green, and that can be seen as negative. “[But] they also mean that there are discussions about those negative sustainability issues happening every time those colors are activated. This is in fact a positive outcome, as one of the main goals of this project is to highlight the importance of maintaining a dialogue – even if that dialogue surrounds daunting threats to sustainability,” Friedman says. “It is important that the masks provoke a highlighted continuation of focus surrounding social and political sustainability issues.”

The masks are therefore difficult to read and do not provide a yes or no answer to whether or not we are heading in the right direction. But PrecogNation especially hopes to highlight the fact that progress cannot be taken for granted. In fact, it even highlighted several specific threats to sustainability. As Friedman explained, population growth was in some way or another related to a majority of the red results and his project therefore emphasizes the need to respond. “Population growth enhances the extent and scale to which the human enterprise functions, and hence increases the likelihood that what irreversible damage we have caused will push biotic and native nonhuman populations past critical thresholds of renewal and tolerance,” he says. “But if we continue to fight for a sustainable future, we could instead turn this massive loss of biodiversity into a manageable depletion.”

The PrecogNation masks are thus far more than a clever Twitter gimmick, but can even highlight exactly what problems we facing right now. The 3D printed masks even point to some solutions. Sustainable success is dependent on, Friedman concluded, a switch hydrogen fusion to reduce co2 emissions and the colonization of other planets. It makes you wonder what other data treasures are hidden in the depths of Twitter.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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